So, your teenager was in a car accident. Or maybe you are a teenager navigating through this unfortunate experience for the first time. First, understand that you are not alone. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), teenagers are at the highest risk of being in an accident out of any other age group.
Still, this area of unknown legalities can bring a whirlwind of questions: Who is liable? Are the parents at fault, or is the child? How can I protect myself after the accident? How can I prevent this from happening in the future?
“It’s a scary place for a parent,” says Personal Injury Attorney Arren Waldrep. “While you are worrying if your child is okay, you also have to worry about what comes next.”
Today, let us focus on two of the most common questions: Who is liable and how to protect yourself.
Who is Liable?
Like most questions, there is not a clear-cut answer to this. Legally, there are several answers, but here are the three most common ones:
The negligence argument falls on the basic idea that every driver has to drive safely. Therefore, the negligent driver is at fault for the accident. In this case, the child would be at fault for causing the accident.
In these cases, damages are determined by costs to the defendant. Depending on the accident’s severity, this can include medical bills, property or vehicle damage, lost wages, or other non-economic losses.
The “negligence” argument does not always stick to the driver. Sometimes, parents can be found negligent for permitting their children to drive. This is called negligent entrustment.
The general premise is that parents should know whether or not their child may be a danger to others on the road. By allowing their child to drive, the parents were negligent when giving their teenager the car keys.
Negligent entrustment looks at the driver’s history, such as having a high number of accidents and tickets. However, simply having a lacking driving record – such as a low number of hours or having a driver’s permit – can also lead to negligent entrustment, as a parent should know their child should be accompanied in these situations.
Vicarious liability is similar to negligent entrustment, though it applies to a more specific case. In this situation, the parent takes fault when they command their child to drive rather than just allowing it to happen. For this reason, vicarious liability is also referred to as family purpose, family use, or the family car doctrine.
This defense would argue that the teen was on the road because they were told to, and their parents were the reason their child was driving. Examples of this would be asking your child to pick up medicine, buy groceries, or swing by the dry cleaners.
It does not matter if the teenager follows the command. For example, say the parents told their child to drive to the store to buy milk. If their teenager decides to go on a joy ride instead and gets in an accident, then the parents are still at fault for the accident.
That can be particularly scary, as simply trusting your child can lead to disastrous consequences. Here are some tips on how to protect yourself before and after a car crash occurs.
How to Protect Yourself
Before a car accident even occurs, you should prepare your child on how to drive safely. Talk to your teenager about the rules of the road, wearing their seatbelt, and other common mistakes someone new to driving may make. Also, talk about drug use and driving under the influence as that issue commonly plagues younger people.
If your child has a car specifically designated to them, you can also put the auto insurance policy under your child’s name. This creates a paper trail attaching the responsibility of that car to your child.
If your child gets into a car accident, a great first move is to hire a personal injury attorney. They can help explain courtroom rules and answer any questions you have regarding your specific case. By hiring a lawyer, you can get a better idea of what to expect.